Friday, January 03, 2020

The Magic Kingdom, Part 2

Previous entries:

Frontierland an anachronism. It really is. Born in Disneyland from the Westerns craze of the 1950's and lingering nostalgia for the old west (some folks had parents and grandparents from Civil War times when Disneyland first opened), most of the theming for Frontierland has outlived American cultural significance. However, the attractions found in Frontierland mostly still survive because of their inherent quality and popularity.

Frontierland's attractions:
  1. Splash Mountain
  2. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
  3. Tom Sawyer Island
  4. Frontierland Shootin' Arcade
  5. Country Bear Jamboree
  6. Walt Disney World Railroad
Frontierland is a land waiting for a huge IP. But I'll get to that...

Splash Mountain continues to defy its taboo film origins, and while more and more people have no connection or memory whatsoever of "Song of the South," this ride's popularity grows and grows. Every so often you hear rumors of Disney bringing Song of the South back out, either in DVD/Blue-Ray release or more recently on Disney+ - but it hasn't happened yet. Even if it does, I don't think it will matter because the characters used in the ride aren't dependent at all on the movie - they can exist as stand-alones that don't rely on audience familiarity to be enjoyable. And it is still enjoyable after all these years. Great music, great animatronics and a memorable thrill flume drop at the end make this a favorite. It does tend to get you wet, depending on your luck and where you sit in the boat, and in cooler weather that can be a hindrance to ride which is a shame. It's a classic attraction that will likely never go away.

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is one of the park's two main thrill rides (we'll get to the other in Tomorrowland) and has bounced back from some pretty horrific accidents a number of years ago. In fact, it took me a long time to gather the courage to ride this ride because of those mishaps. But it's worth it - it's a very quintessential Disney roller coaster. Not too fast, not too scary, just thrilling enough for adults to enjoy but kids can ride too and not come off looking like they've just gone 10 rounds with Pistol Pete. The theming is great, and a recent refurb to the queue gives you lots of tasks to occupy your time while you wait (although not all of them are that interesting, honestly). This is a ride that's exquisite after dark, with a lot of strategic lighting and great views of the park. A planned redo to the entire theming was cancelled not long ago - I'll touch on that a little later.

Tom Sawyer Island is also an anachronism to a less-busy time that has somehow survived. I'll be honest to say I've only visited this island once, and that was really just to say I'd ridden the boat over to it. We stayed for a few minutes, saw there was not much to do but wander around, and came back. There are still a number of play areas for kids on the island and occasionally a snack bar is open but it's best for killing time with the kids. There used to be some interactive elements (hidden paintbrushes, when found would win a kid a Fastpass) but the internet gave away all the secrets so they're pretty much gone.

The footprint for the island, combined with the river that surrounds it, is massive and - similar to the Jungle Cruise - is often the subject of talk to fill it all in and put something new in. Personally I feel this would be an amazing location to put something new in, and have no real emotional ties to the island or the water (more on that in Liberty Square).

Frontierland Shootin' Arcade - why is this still here? I have no idea. I guess people enjoy it. It's an irreverent western-themed shooting gallery. You have to pay extra to shoot, you can't win prizes. I've never done it and walk right past. I guess enough people still enjoy it to keep it open, maintained and cast members assigned to it that it at least breaks even and would be more trouble than it's worth to replace such a small area. Enjoy folks, moving on...

Country Bears Jamboree - Sigh. I want to like this, I really do. I've watched it, it's corny. The songs are corny. The jokes are corny. The animatronics on the stage and on the wall are corny. But it was a one and done for me. I know there are still CBJ fans out there that keep this open even though lack of interest closed the version in Disneyland. If you enjoy it, fine, have fun. It's a pretty small performance area that could have something better in it, but honestly - as I said before - culturally what more could you replace it with that's going to resonate any better than it already does? Surprisingly, I haven't heard anything in a long time about this show's long-term status so it seems pretty safe for now.

Walt Disney World Railroad - This station is still closed pending the railroad reopening whenever Tron Coaster allows. See this page for more discussion about the Walt Disney World Railroad.

There's a very popular counter service restaurant, Pecos Bill's Tall Tale Inn & Cafe, that is famous for it's Tex-Mex/Americana food and fixin's bar. At least it used to be. At least, I heard it is. I've never eaten there (hey, I haven't seen everything single thing at WDW yet). But it seems to be a nice place to eat on the far side of the park. The Golden Oak Outpost is also available for quick dining on the path between Adventureland and Frontierland.

The Diamond Horseshoe is a table-service restaurant that's themed to resemble an old-time saloon. I'm sure it's fun, but have also never visited. It sounds like a number of other saloon-themed restaurants I've heard of and visited before (The Crystal Pistol from Six Flags Over Georgia, most notably) and was likely modeled after the famous Golden Horseshoe from Disneyland.

So if this land review seems lacking in personal experience, again the western theming I feel is old and past its prime and simply doesn't appeal to me very much. The individual rides like Big Thunder and Splash Mountain are great, but their ties to a greater theme in the land itself are tenuous at best. If there was ever a land that actually needed an IP to boost its visibility, it's Frontierland. When the Johnny Depp-vehicle The Lone Ranger was getting ready to hit the theatres, Disney was ready and waiting to re-theme Big Thunder Mountain Railroad to it in a big way - but when it crashed and burned, that idea did as well. Ironically, one of the best areas of the park where a new E-Ticket attraction could be built is on top of Tom Sawyer's Island and the Rivers of America surrounding it, but Frontierland is the land that already has 2 thrill rides and doesn't need another one.

Liberty Square

It's possible this neighboring land is the one that could use a thrill ride on that spot, but more on those possibilities later.

It is interesting how theming requires personal interest and resonance in a guest to be fully appreciated. Someone like me totally digs Adventureland, is bored with Frontierland and quite enjoys Liberty Square, and someone else may have completely different reactions to each one. But my thoughts are all I have...

Liberty Square is themed to resemble an American Colonial-era town. From the cobblestone streets to the building architecture, I really enjoy wandering through this land. It is unique to Walt Disney World, and is a reflection of New Orleans Square in Disneyland.

Liberty Square Attractions:
  1. Liberty Square Riverboat
  2. Hall of Presidents
  3. The Haunted Mansion

Liberty Square is a fairly small land in area, and houses a proportionally small number of attractions.

The Liberty Square Riverboat takes passengers on a leisurely ride around Tom Sawyer Island. Occasionally there are characters onboard to interact with passengers. The design of the steamboat really fits as well here as it does pairing up with Frontierland, and I almost wish more could be done with it in that way. Unless Disney decides, as I mentioned above, to do away with Tom Sawyer Island and the Rivers of America to use that space for a new attraction(s), the Riverboat will keep chugging. I wonder sometimes whether it's a river width, depth or length limitation that keeps two boats from using the waterway as they do in Disneyland. Maybe someday another ship will be added - it would be fun to see something truly Colonial in design - Disneyland has the Sailing Ship Columbia that is used in its Fantasmic show. I would love to see a replica of the USS Constitution berthed permanently here.

The Hall of Presidents has a bit of a controversial past in many ways. While being an animatronic showcase with all the past presidents and a very comfortable way to pass time on a hot Orlando day, it has a reputation for being boring and overall uninteresting and there's always stress whenever a new president is added. The addition of Donald Trump was delayed for several months, significantly longer than when other recent presidents were added. I'm going to reserve my actual feelings and just say that overall it's fun to at least watch once. Whether your favorite president is there to speak or not, it never seems to be in danger of going away. I would imagine in today's age, there is a risk that removing Hall of Presidents would be in response to one party's president or another and cause a PR headache. Plus a lack of creative enthusiasm for improving Liberty Square overall shows this people-eater may be around at least as long as the United States lasts.

I'll try and restrain from gushing about The Haunted Mansion. It is my favorite attraction on the entire property, and I can go on forever about why I love it. But I won't at this time. It has undergone about as many changes, updates and improvements over the years as Pirates of the Caribbean. There seem to always be new effects and recently added an extremely creative interactive queue area. The design of the mansion facade is exquisitely Gothic and fits into the Liberty Square motif as "that mansion on the hill".... This attraction will also still be standing when the rest of the world is collapsed rubble, and I'll still be standing in line reciting the lines along with the Ghost Host. Future changes are not rumored at this time, interestingly. Disney seems to have temporarily cooled on its "plussing" binge. It would be fun if they would add a Hatbox Ghost to the Orlando version like they did in Anaheim, but equally fun would be for them to create a totally original new feature ghost to hang out in the attic with Constance Hatchaway. Time will tell...

There are two main restaurants in Liberty Square, each having similar themes. Columbia Harbour House is quick service, and Liberty Inn Tavern is table service. Both have traditional New England and Thanksgiving-style food and both are well-regarded and well-themed.

Until just recently, Liberty Square presented "Great Moments in History With The Muppets" which was a fun, seemingly spontaneous show from the windows of the surrounding buildings. Great Moments supposedly closed, but returned briefly during the recent holidays. I would love to see this show come back, as well as more like it continue in the area. Anyone who has ever visited Colonial Williamsburg knows Revolutionary War-era American has always been embraced by modern audiences and I feel that theme could be expanded throughout the land.

This is not an area that needs a thrill ride, doesn't really need another dark ride. Not counting some more interactive colonial elements, this land is pretty good the way it is.

Next Time: Fantasyland and Tomorrowland